It takes a true visionary to stick to their guns and challenge the status quo. As a society we should be celebrating the thinkers, those always asking questions and exploring new ideas. This filters through to every aspect of modern day culture, especially in music, where accolades are heaped on fame hunters who create according to a modern-day capitalist template instead of big guided by that true inventive spark inside.
God bless artists then like Paul Woodford aka Special Request. Earlier this year he did a mic drop by dropping a 23-track opus traversing everything from acid to breaks to techno to ambient. And it’s a beauty. From the calming opening chords of ‘Chrysalis’ to the musical prologue of ‘In Loving Memory’, ‘Belief System’ is a beast – and definitely one of the year’s best releases too. We caught up with the Leeds producer to chat about his thought process behind one of the year’s most interesting releases…
Hi Paul, thank you for your time. Firstly, congratulations on an epic release, ’Belief System’ is just what the doctored ordered. I would love to start with the promotional videos accompanying the whole campaign… they’re pretty dark, yet compelling, and really succeeded in complimenting the music visually.
Was that creative direction all down to Houndstooth or was it a collaborative effort between you and and the label? Is there a theme behind the videos? Am I reading too much into them (haha)?
Thanks for the compliments. The images were all created by a guy called Brendan Bennett – he is a designer and works with 3D motion graphics. He took the inspiration from the Rodin sculpture on the front cover of the album, ‘The Gates Of Hell’ – and he aimed to build a world, and I quote, “as haunting and as hellish as the sculpture”. This is Brendan’s own words. I did not interfere with his process in any way, the images were presented to me and I liked how he’d approached it.
I actually have no time for music videos – beyond a few very imaginative individuals, they are largely a waste of time and money. I adore visual arts and I think the music video is largely a joke – basic content used by record companies for the sake of an image so things get shared on social media. An insult to the power and weight of what a really strong image can convey. But I like what Brendan did, despite this!
23 tracks produced over 3 years is quite a journey. I can imagine a 3 year process must end up being somewhat cathartic. Why did it take so long and what has been the most illuminating part of this process for you?
It’s apparent to me that from the outside this album looks like some huge Herculean task, but it really wasn’t like that. It’s just that the components of it in a list make it seem that way. I am absolutely bored of the traditional way that people release albums, and I’m bored of the tried & tested basic formulas of dance music, and the same old sounds. All I did was acknowledge this by exploring things outside of the usual frames of reference. It has surprised me how conservative some of the reaction has been, considering how so much of the dance music press make a big deal of having such an innovative view. So many of those people actually only want an innovative approach if it’s within certain “safe” parameters. Anything genuinely pushing outward scares the shit of them. As it should, I guess.
There has been some incredible support from those that actually take it on it’s own merits, instead of trying to slip it into some pre-existing narrative. The most illuminating thing about the process was finishing it and having it all to myself before it went out to the press. That’s the best bit for any artist, because your creation is still your own. Nobody can knock it down
The press release states that you made the album ‘utilising source material’ from your ‘tape archives going back to 1993.’ Where did that source material come from? Did you store those away only to discover them again after all this time? Or did you have it stored away knowing that eventually you would go back to it?
A box of tapes at my parents’ house that contained a load of old recordings I’d made when I was about 15. Going back and listening again to some of this old stuff was a mad one because some of it is genuinely mental sounding. We think we’ve heard it all by now, these days. So I took some careful samples of some of the tracks and incorporated them into some of the tracks. The drums on Adel Crag Microdot were partly from one of them. I never thought I’d use any of them, or even listen to them again, but it’s actually fascinating going back to them and working out where my head was at.
The album length itself is quite a statement in this day and age of quick musical satisfaction, it feels like millennials have lost patience with LP’s in favour of singles. You could even say they have… um… lost belief in the long format. Considering that, the album title ‘Belief System’ is really relevant.
Did you you always have the album length in mind when you produced the album? Or was the length more a result of how it played out in the end?
I’ve always loved immersive experiences. In terms of longer album lengths, I remember getting The Orb’s album ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ when I was a teenager and being blown away by it. It was long,but that was secondary, the whole experience was immersive. I find it backwards how some people can watch 8 series of something like Game Of Thrones but they complain at an album longer than 45 minutes. In my eyes, every artist who actually has the nerve to call themselves an artist should be going all out to expand the field, to innovate and actually do something that gives people an experience.
The modern attention span is shorter than ever but why should I just give in because everyone around me is staring at their iPhone? “Oh we only make singles now – nobody can be bothered to listen to albums” – I’ve always found people who just blindly follow what the next man does painfully dull. It’s a real pathetic way to live your life. If nobody is listening to albums anymore why is every single pressing plant on earth clogged up with special edition double packs of albums being re-pressed? I only stopped when I knew the record was at it’s end. It was going to be a triple at one point but I’d REALLY have caused trouble with that…
The album titles itself is quite the journey. It is filled with references to nature (‘Chrysalis’, ’Carex Vesicaria’) and symbolism and mythology (‘Tiresias’, ‘Ouroboros’, ‘Leviathan’). It seems like you have a healthy thirst for knowledge outside of music! Have you missed your calling as a scientist or philosopher?
Well it has layers to it – and it needs to in order to be engaging, but these are just things that interest me and words that interest me phonetically, as much as they have meanings. I can’t stand bad track titles, and there’s an art to that in itself.
One title which had me and Google stumped is ‘Qoriqzona’. Please put me out of my misery and enlighten us as to what this African-sounding word refers too?!
It’s made up word, but it was from combining Eastern-European languages that led to it
‘Make It Real’ might just be my favourite track on the whole release. For me it really captures the mid-90’s jungle vibe perfectly. Do you have a favourite track on the album?
That’s like asking to name a favourite child!
Is there an album you can reference which you believe had the biggest influence on this release?
Hundreds of the over the years, no one in particular. It’s really hard not to be influenced by outside things so I have to sensor what I’m listening to while I’m making albums and be careful in the choices…
Outside of the album, you recently did some work on the new Blade Runner film, your sound design being used in the official trailer. How did that came about and was this your first foray into Hollywood? Do you have any aspirations to continue in that direction?
A long story but obviously it was something that was pretty mind-blowing. I’m doing more work along these lines every week and building an archive of material all in this vein outside of dance music.
And finally, when will we see you in Australia again?
As soon as possible! I was actually booked for the Earthcore events but that all fell through, which was a shame, so as soon as the right opportunity comes along, I’ll be on those planes…